On the heels of the release of their latest studio album Followers, lead singer Mike Doheney of Tenth Avenue North caught up with our very own Alex "Tincan" Caldwell to discuss fear, following Christ, and album art...
This interview took place on: October 4, 2016.
Click here for Tenth Avenue North's Artist Profile page.
Yeah you did!
Mike: Oh yeah. Was that in Maine or was that in New Hampshire?
Mike: I was so bummed out because the crowd was feeling really good.
Mike: Yeah we actually met them that day. They are so sweet man. A couple weeks before someone had tweeted me and I watched them cover our song, and they put a rap in it. I said "that's fun."
Mike: No, the promoter had already sent the band over to our management to okay that they were to open for us. I didn't even realize that was the band that was opening for us when I watched the video. So it was all kind of random.
Mike: Yeah it's funny you say that--there's a band we just met out in Huntington Beach last month, and they came to Nashville with their parents. So Jeff, our guitarist, and I spent a couple days writing with them and helping them understand the songwriting process. So yeah, absolutely! I think the really practical answer to that is when we first started playing at festivals and opening up for other bands, there were several times where I was super bummed out because all the other bands that were headlining stayed in their bus all day. (JFH: They were inaccessible.) Yeah, and rightfully so. Now doing it, I understand how, maybe if you're a dad then you are on the bus talking to schools. There's all kinds of things that people need to do but I just try to make it a habit of going out and searching out the young bands that are there. Not because I think I have any great answers necessarily, but because when I was in that position I was bummed out when I didn't feel comfortable approaching the other bands.
Mike: "Hello Mr. TobyMac, sir."
Mike: Oh yes!
Mike: Yeah I did. It was after our first record came out. "By Your Side" had just hit number one. So we had two number one radio singles and we were still riding in the van. We were opening up for Sanctus Real at the time, or maybe Roadshow. Both tours were out on the west coast and we were the only band in a van. So we hadn't slept in a year, basically, driving through the night and getting paid $30 a show and we just said "this is unsustainable." We had been independent for years--we put out four independent records--and that was actually a pretty good gig. We'd go to friends' houses, hang out, play a show, and play their Church Sunday morning. Or we'd go to a camp and we'd be there for a week. So that was more of a sustainable way of life. But when we were the opening band in that van, and you are just driving through the night, night after night, eating bologna sandwiches out of a cooler we said "something's got to give."
Mike: We got to be on a bus! *laughter* We did a tour that fall--we opened up for MercyMe and we got six bunks on their crew bus. Just going to bed and sleeping, and waking up in the next city, I said "ohhhh--this is how people do this!"
Mike: Well actually, Jeff brought me the basic idea of a song the day after the Paris bombings and I said, "this is fitting, man. Let's write this." And so it was really that. And as the record's theme of being followers of Christ took shape, the most repeated command is "don't be afraid." It's interesting because you don't think of that as being "what does God want most from me?" If I were just going to stack it mathematically, by Him commanding me five times more than anything else to not be afraid, then I could say the one thing--beyond a shadow of a doubt--the number one thing God wants from me is to not live in fear. But let's be honest, we are afraid, because we're sinful. We build our identity on things of this world and we build our identity on things that can be taken from us. So that prayer is just me wrestling out the fact that God is offering me this fearlessness and I keep gripping onto reasons why I should be afraid. And I have to eventually go "okay Jesus, let me just submit that You have better intel than I do."
Mike: Yeah. Here's the deal--I love what Tim Keller says in Counterfeit God. All our problems are the same in that we have idols. You have things that should be of some importance, but you make them of ultimate importance. And when you make something that is eventually going to be taken away from you, when you make that your ultimate importance, then you are going to live in fear because anytime you feel that thing shaking underneath your feet you're going to start getting anxiety--including, for the Church, your ministry status or your leadership status. I read this book--I forget who said it--he was leading all these ministries and he was super burned out. And then he said he went away with the Lord and he felt God say "in the end, all the ministry you are doing for me, even that will be stripped away when you stand before my throne. But you will always be my son." And I think it was Tozer who said "if you want to know the depth of someone's spirituality, consider what they think of being a son or daughter of God." Or maybe it was Charles Spurgeon. But just that idea that you're a son should be one of the highest things that you esteem.
Mike: If we are a reflection of Israel in the Old Testament, then Israel wanted a king.
Mike: Yeah it's interesting if you actually read from Church leaders in heavily persecuted areas, none of them ask for the persecution to stop. They always ask for the strength to endure it.
Mike: Absolutely. You have to say "this world cannot take my treasure." What's your treasure? You can begin to do Indiana Jones and step into the lion's den. When noting can be taken away from you, that's when you can start walking forward.
Mike: I care about that stuff! I appreciate you paying attention.
Mike: Right. And even our records kind of build on each other. Over & Underneath is the Gospel. Christ is above and below--above the purest and below the worst. We can all be saved. That's where the healing begins, that he's strong enough to save you. You can be honest about your struggles. You can be honest that you feel worn. It's when we're honest, that's when we'll actually start to find one another, we'll be in a safe place with one another, we'll become cathedrals, a dwelling place of God. And now that we are these cathedrals, let's go out into the world. Let's bring this out. Let's follow Christ into the unknown. But if you're going to follow Christ you can't do it with fear. "What You Want" is a statement of saying way more important than what you do is why you are doing it. And it's something I think the Church has really missed, because we lift up certain occupations. It's almost inevitable. And we ended Cathdrals with "All the Earth Is Holy Ground." I love Martin Luther's statement, "the milk maid has just as holy of a calling as the clergy." (JFH: I don't believe in secular things...) Yeah, imagine if everyone at Church felt just as much empowered to be the Church when they left on Sunday. That's my dream. I think that's Christ's dream.
Mike: I heard a great sermon about how in Acts when there's Lydia, who is white collar, owns her own business, she's a garment maker. Then you had this demon possessed girl, basically a prostitute on the lower east side of the bridge. Lydia was educated, and then you got this blue collar Roman jailer. They're all in the same chapter, and they all get saved totally differently. And I love how the sermon was basically, to some, God will come through intellect, to some God will come through power, and to some God will come through the testimony of the way someone lives.
Mike: Oh, thanks!
Mike: This one's actually going to be on vinyl.
Mike: Tim Parker, who works at our label, he's a mad scientist. He actually did our first two, but the bigger powers-that-be won over. You should have seen some of the mock-ups that he made that didn't get picked. We were all fighting for them.
Mike: I can't picture it.
Mike: Not legitimately. We might get asked every once in a while about something on the internet, but it never feels like they actually want to know. It's usually either "I want to agree with you or burn you at the stake." *laughter*
Mike: It's a sad thing. With the internet you'd think we have more ability to have nuanced conversation, but we seem to be more tribalistic than ever.
Mike: Yeah, that's the thing. Even the news feed is being curated to you. So less and less, you're being presented with ideas that you disagree with. Google is curating your search and filtering what things will get put in front of your face. It's a weird time, man.
Mike: I actually just finished a book to coincide with the record.
Mike: It's all a matter of why you say it. You just have to have a heart that goes "I just really want people to understand this." And then hopefully that bleeds through even though some people will just stretch what you say no matter what. You just have to brace yourself and be ready for that.
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